For most of us, it’s not like we have a choice which airports we’ll patronize. We find the cheapest tickets for the most reasonable trips and we go where the airlines and geography dictate. Sometimes, though, it’s worth an extra $50 in airfare or an extra 45-minute commute to avoid our least favorite airports when we can. I know that if I can avoid connecting at LAX (Los Angeles) or JFK (New York City), I will, and I’d rather fly out of WAS (Washington-Reagan) than IAD (Washington-Dulles) or BWI (Baltimore), and that if I’m flying out of Florida, my first choice is TPA (Tampa). I’m also eternally grateful that my home airport, PDX (Portland), is so completely wonderful, because I don’t have a choice about that one. According to the J.D. Power and Associates 2010 North America Airport Satisfaction Survey, most of the country agrees with me.
Among the large airports (30 million passengers per year or more — mostly large hubs), I would stop short of calling the top-ranked the “best,” and probably just think of them as the least bad. Basically the survey boils down to how efficient an airport is — can you get in and out quickly, with minimal hassle? In large airports, the answer is almost always going to be no. Some are more efficient than others, certainly, and those are the ones that perform best in this survey, but if you’re checking in at a huge airport, expect longer lines just about everywhere, including on your way in and out — baggage retrieval at hub airports always takes FOREVER.
Another main factor in the survey is airport comfort — how good are the amenities inside the terminals? Shopping, food, internet access, comfy chairs, etc. Large airports tend to have great selections for food and shopping, but again, long lines…I find that unless I have a long layover, I almost never have enough time to grab lunch at a hub while waiting for my connection. So in general, I’m not a fan of large airports, though some are certainly better than others. According to the survey, America’s favorite large airports are DTW (Detroit), DEN (Denver,) MSP (Minneapolis-St.Paul), and DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth).
JFK and LAX both scored very poorly on the survey. I especially loathe these airports because of the way their terminals are set up, each with its individual security checkpoint. That means that often when I connect at one of these airports, I have to switch terminals and go through a whole new security line, even though I’ve already done it once that day. I’ve missed a lot of connections because of this — waiting for trains to move you from one terminal to another is enough of a hassle, but it would be nice if these airports would at least put some trains on the cleared side of the security gates.
Medium-sized airports are the best, in my opinion. They’re small enough to get through check-in and security without too much of a wait (I was absolutely BLOWN AWAY by how fast and efficient the TPA security line was), and large enough to offer a nice selection of retail and dining inside the terminals. These airports are also usually served by low cost airlines like Southwest, JetBlue, and others, whereas these airlines often don’t fly to the largest airports. And most of them offer free wi-fi. Topping the survey of mid-sized airports (10 million – 30 million passengers per year) were MCI (Kansas City), PDX (Portland! Woo!), and TPA (Tampa).
Most of us don’t choose our destinations based on the airports that serve the area, but you can choose routes that avoid certain hubs, and most large cities have at least two airport choices. Do you have any favorites or least favorites?